Gordon Brown shook hands yesterday with terror suspects who had been locked up in Guantanamo Bay because of their alleged links to al Qaida.
The surprise encounter came when the Prime Minister, who is on a four day tour of Gulf states, visited a “correctional centre” in Saudi Arabia for Islamist extremists who are being “deradicalised”.
He spoke to five men accused of supporting terrorism, including two who were held in Guantanamo Bay for six years before being turned over to the Saudi authorities.
One told Mr Brown he had been in the “wrong place at the wrong time” and fell in with extremists. He is now married, is about to become a father and hopes to pursue a career in computing. The Prime Minister wished him good luck.
Another man, who did not give his name, said the rehabilitation project on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh was the “best thing that ever happened to me”. He said: “It changed my ideology.”
The men are kept in secure “halfway houses” with facilities such as gyms and swimming pools while imams give them lessons on Islam. When they are deemed safe, they are allowed to rejoin the community.
Before leaving Saudi Arabia for Qatar, the Prime Minister claimed victory in his efforts to persuade the region's oil-rich states to pump money into the International Monetary Fund to help stabilise the global economy.
He said he thought the Gulf states would now hand over some of the $1 trillion windfall they have reaped from recent soaring oil prices.
He said: “I think people want to invest both in helping the world get through this very difficult period of time but also I think people want to work with us so we are less dependent on oil and have more stability in oil prices.”
Mr Brown delivered another strong hint that the Bank of England could reduce interest rates further this week.
The Prime Minister is being accompanied on his four-day tour of the region by Peter Mandelson, the Business Secretary, Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, and 27 senior British business people.